Students at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School in Charleston are helping to guide their own science-based lessons and activities with a new after-school initiative led by the West Virginia State University (WVSU) 4-H program. Extension agents are working with grades K-5 to offer STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) programs based on the needs and wants identified by students themselves.
“Our goal is to facilitate engaging experiences through hands-on activities, inquiry and dedicated mentorship,” said WVSU Extension Agent Molly Sterling. “One way we achieve that is by asking the students what they want to do with us.”
This differs from traditional approaches, in which predetermined lessons and materials are often brought into schools without input from the students being served.
“Doing what the students want to do is important to me, because that will have the greatest impact on them, give them ownership over their projects and help them see that the possibilities are endless for their futures,” Sterling said.
WVSU staff and student volunteers launched the first set of STEAM activities at Mary C. Snow’s after-school program last fall with a curriculum designed by WVSU student Ashley Current focusing on recycling and reuse, culminating in a Halloween-themed activity in October in which students made their own costumes using recycled materials.
According to school officials, the program is piquing students’ interest in science.
“Since the first meeting, I have had teachers, parents, guardians and students asking, even begging, to be accepted into the after-school program,” said Natalie Blevins, the elementary school’s family support worker and after-school program director. “Parents are telling me their children are asking not to be picked up from the program until it ends at 5:30.”
With sessions resuming this week, Sterling plans to continue developing lessons based on student feedback. Recent talks with fourth and fifth graders revealed interest in making such things as volcanoes, slime, cars, planes – even shoes.
“The shoe idea kind of threw me, but then I thought, why not?” said Sterling, who hopes to structure lessons around each of the students’ requests. “The more I thought about it, the more I realized how flexible STEAM can be.”